Professional athletes use apparel for Black lives advocacy

Jana Morning, Campus Carrier staff writer

Photo courtesy of Naomi Osaka’s Instagram

Following the height of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, professional athletes from all sports have been showing their support through the information they share, the words they speak and even through the gear they compete in. Many professional associations have allowed their athletes to customize jerseys, masks and equipment in order to send a firm message on their stance for social justice advocacy. 

Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open women’s singles title on Sept. 12, was included on the long list of professional athletes who have been trying to raise awareness. Over the course of the tournament, she wore seven different masks featuring the names of victims of police brutality and racial injustice, including Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice. 

The week prior, Osaka was also one of many athletes who opted out of competing after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Wisconsin police officer. Osaka refused to compete in the semifinal match of the Western & Southern Open, but continued after the tournament was shut down for a day. 

“As a Black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said on twitter. 

Osaka added she didn’t expect drastic change, but wanted to find a way to bring awareness and start a conversation. 

The WNBA’s Washington Mystics each wore a white T-shirt printed with seven gun wounds on the back to pay respect to Jacob Blake. As a response, multiple WNBA teams postponed games to show solidarity to those who were protesting the incident. 

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans Instagram

Both the NBA and WNBA have been nothing shy of vocal, using every opportunity to bring attention to the racial injustice. Players have been allowed to replace the names on the backs of their jerseys with messages they would like to share. 

The jerseys have featured 29 different messages being used to focus on topics like police brutality and systemic racism. “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Respect Us” and numerous other phrases have been seen on the backs of both NBA and WNBA players. 

Similarly, Tennessee Titan football player Derrick Henry was seen getting off a plane wearing a black suit with white, bold letters that listed the names of victims of police brutality and racial injustice, including that of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and Emmett Till. The photo of Henry in the suit was posted by the Tennessee Titans official Twitter page, with the caption “It takes all of us.” 

Photo courtesy of Washington Mystics’ Instagram

The world of professional sports has seen increased social justice advocacy in the past few years, ever since ex-San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016. The quarterback became the face of controversy in the NFL and has remained a free agent since his dismissal from the team before the 2017 season. During that time, Kaepernick continued to speak out against racial injustices within law enforcement, gaining momentum after signing a deal with Nike to help spread his message. He was the first wave in what would eventually become a tsunami of support from fans, professional athletes, college athletes and entire organizations years later. 

These displays come in the wake of the mass nationwide boycotts by sports teams that occured Aug. 26 and 27, as athletes across the world continue to take a stance against racial injustice. 

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